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Published: Friday, 6/8/2007

Movie review: Surf s Up **

BY NANCIANN CHERRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

First came the beguiling documentary March of the Penguins, then the sweetly funny Happy Feet. Now comes Surf s Up, wherein those tuxedo-wearing critters vie for title of the top surfer dude.

Unfortunately, we re moving down the food chain. It s stupid.

Even worse, it s boring.

At a child-filled screening last week, the crying started about 10 minutes into the show and didn t end until the credits rolled. There was lots of applause at the end, but I suspect it was mostly by adults who were glad the film was over.

The problem, I think, is that writers Don Rhymer, Ash Brannon, Chris Buck, and Christopher Jenkins and try to capture too many audiences. (That often happens with writing by committee.)

The oft-told story about an outsider trying to be true to himself seems targeted at young adolescents and teens, but the cute penguins appear designed more for preschoolers.

Instead of a universal appeal, it has a spotty one, pleasing some of the viewers some of the time, and the documentary style of the story, with critters talking directly to the camera, grinds the action to a halt more than once.

On the other hand, Surf s Up is technically delightful. The animation, especially in the surfing scenes, when our hero is riding the pipe (surfing parallel to a wave, with the water curling over him), can be breathtaking.

That hero is Cody Maverick, a rockhopper penguin whose mantra is Winners find a way, no matter what.

He got that inspiration and a love of surfing from the legendary surfer Big Z, who visited Cody s hometown of Shiverpool, Antarctica, when Cody was little.

Undersized and misunderstood, Cody reluctantly works as a fish sorter until the day that a surfing talent scout comes to Shiverpool and taps him to compete in the world championships on Pen Gu island.

At Pen Gu, Cody finds more than he bargained for. The reigning champ, emperor penguin Tank Evans, is larger than life and just as self-centered and nasty. The promoter, Reggie Belafonte, an otter with Don King-like hair, is self-centered and slimy. And the Bone Yard, an area of rocks and coral outcroppings where an unsuspecting surfer might find himself, is deadly. In fact, it claimed Big Z several years before.

But Cody also finds something he didn t expect: friends, including the lovely lifeguard Lani Aliikai, Chicken Joe, the only surfing rooster in Sheyboygan, Wis., and the Geek, a hermit in the jungle who becomes Cody s mentor, turning Surf s Up into a sort of Karate Kid on surfboards.

Another asset of the movie is the voice talent, which seems amazingly suited to the characters. Shia LeBeouf (Even Stevens, Disturbia) is Cody, Jeff Bridges, channeling his The Big Lebowski character, is the Geek, Zooey Deschanel (The Bridge to Terabithia) is Lani, and Jon Heder (Napoleon Dynamite) is Chicken Joe.

Most animated films record the voices individually at different times, but press notes for Surf s Up say that the voices were recorded together in a studio, and the actors got to see and respond to each other. This really makes a difference. The characters indeed seem to be talking to each other.

The separate elements of Surf s Up the animation, the characters would seem to make it a good movie, but the parts just don t mesh.

Viewers looking to take their offspring to a nonviolent, pretty film filled with lessons about friendship and competition could do worse than Surf s Up.

Viewers looking for a good movie should look elsewhere.

Contact Nanciann Cherry at: ncherry@theblade.com or 419-724-6130.



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